I had just been presented with yet another list of my shortcomings as a worship leader when I drove home, brutally discouraged, and extremely confused. The house was empty, no one was home, and I knew I was in bad shape. What in the world had just happened? How in the world could I keep this ministry thing going?
In that moment of despair, it was almost as if God screamed at me: “Open the Bible to James chapter 1”.
And so I did. And I read:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
(James 1:2-12 ESV)
And just like that, God taught me some crucial lessons.
First, trials are good for me. They’re good for me because they drive me to have greater faith in Jesus. They grow me up – not in self-confidence – but in Christ-confidence. So I can persevere through discouraging trials and tests, because they have a purpose, which is to cause me to throw myself on Jesus even more. This increases my effectiveness in ministry by about 1,000%.
Second, God will give me wisdom. God doesn’t offer a fast-pass, a short cut, or a detour around turbulence. But he promises wisdom when I ask in faith, and he will guide me through, as a God who gives generously. So I can continue to walk ahead, even when it’s actually quite miserable, because I am not on my own. This is not all riding on my shoulders, my giftedness, my leadership prowess, and my navigational skills. I am following my Captain, my Lord, my King, my Ruler, my Guardian, and my Defender. I will not survive in ministry because I am good at it. I will survive in ministry because God is good at it, and he tells me what to do so he can use me.
Third, humility is the quality that will result in ministry longevity. Pride will inevitably lead to a withering of my fruit. It’s an unavoidable result of pride that can’t be ignored. But through disappointment, trials, tests, and even humiliation, God is keeping the soil of my heart more fertile, and more aware of its need for God. So, as counter-intuitive as it is, I can be grateful to God when he humbles me, however and whenever he chooses. It must mean I need it.
Finally, I have to keep the big picture in mind. My ultimate home is not a plum ministry position. My ultimate home is heaven. And until I am home, I will experience times of encouragement, and times of discouragement. I will be presented with affirmation, and I will be presented with lists of my shortcomings. And through it all, my faith is in Jesus, my wisdom comes from him and his word, and my job is to exalt him whether I’m comfortable or not. One day I will receive the crown of life, and on that day, and not a day sooner, all discouragement will cease.